See the Jobst Brandt's Tour of the Alps Collection under the section for Europe of the Trento Bike Pages.

Tour of the Alps 1993

By Jobst Brandt, Tue, 18 Nov 1997 14:10:23 PST
This summer as many before, I loaded my suitcase with a change of clothes and some gifts for my friends in Europe along with my bicycle saddlebag with the things on my minimalist checklist for a long bike tour. The cranks, QR skewers, chain, and rear derailleur go into the suitcase together with tools necessary for assembly. The bike had the forks turned backwards, the wheels strapped to either side of the frame and the bars rotated and hooked up through the wheels, (5/16 x 16 thread) spreader bolts to prevent damage to the forks. The bike was covered with a thick clear plastic bag and taped shut.

Armed with two pieces of legal overseas air baggage, I can take the two pieces and my small carry-on bag on trains when I arrive. It is permissible to ship whole bicycles by air but when you arrive, the bike cannot be carried onto most trains.

I flew on Tuesday, 22 June, in the afternoon with Balair (Swiss Air charter) to Zurich with a stop in Bangor ME, arriving late in the afternoon on Wednesday with my riding companion and nephew, Marc. As in the past, Marc is a great riding companion because he has an entertaining perspective on life and he doesn't get lost. He is also a good bike rider so I don't have to worry about where we ride.

Arriving in the ZH airport, we caught the train downstairs to the city and from there to Affoltern a/Albis where our friend Fredy Ruegg has a bike shop across the street from the station. From here, it's about a km to the Dierauer's place, whose home has served as my base camp for many years. We put our bikes together after dinner and prepared for departure in the morning. My nephew had only two weeks vacation so there was no spare time to hang around.

1. Thursday, 24 June

In the morning we pushed off under fair skies toward Luzern and the central Alps of Switzerland (CH). The road heads out of town down into the valley of the Reuss, that runs from the Gotthard and Furka passes to the Vierwaldstettersee (Lake of Luzern) on its way to the Rhine. We rode upstream to Luzern where we dropped in on an old friend and had a bite to eat before riding on toward the Brunig Pass.

We watched common swifts and the large alpine swifts as they screamed in their high trill, darting around the tower on the covered wooden bridge for which Luzern is famous. The swans and ducks were just as in the Swiss calendars, a lovely picture with red and pink geraniums in the window boxes on the bridge. We crossed the smaller of the two wooden bridges and headed toward Kriens and the Alpnach leg of the lake at Hergiswil. Double crested cormorants, blue herons, and laughing gulls with their black heads were abundant on the lake.

At Sarnen we turned off the main road to a "shortcut" that is a scenic and car free alternate way over the hill. A small road that passes the train station, crosses the tracks and freeway to go up into the woods to Flueli and beyond into the Melchtal and Stockalp (917m). Farther up the canyon, we heard the pleasant call of the Cuckoo in the woods instead of from a clock. From Stockalp, the climb to Frut (1902m) is steep and one lane, with a half hour phased traffic light that regulates motor vehicles but not bicycles, because it takes longer than that to ride up the road.

At Frut, the road reaches a large parking lot and a good general store a bit farther, where the rider in need of calories can find food. From here the road, closed to motor vehicles, takes a scenic route around two lakes and ends at Tannalp at a large youth hostel and dormitory, as well as the Tannalp dairy. Hiking trails continue in several directions of which we took the one that heads south into the steep canyon of Engsteln (1837m).

Along the trail, about 50 meters above on the steep slope two chamois grazed nonchalantly ignoring us at our ineffective distance. An armed hunter could prove otherwise, but they are not permitted here. From Engsteln, a private paved road descends a spectacular canyon with nearly vertical walls to the Susten Pass road, on which we continued to Inertkirchen (625m) through its sweeping curves and curved tunnels.

It is a small sprint from Inertkirchen up the four traverses of the Lammi pass (709m), where the road to Rosenlaui and the Grosse Scheidegg starts. The road looks deceptively flat although it is more than a 10% grade most of the way. We passed Hotel Zwirgi at the Reichenbach waterfall where Sherlock Holmes and Dr Moriarty went for a final swim, according to Conan Doyle. The ride up the gorge is a steady steep climb that only lets up at the meadows just before Hotel Rosenlaui (1330m) where Andreas Kehrli now presides, after the sudden death of his mother last fall.

As last year, there were few guests, because the weather had been cold and overcast. This did not deter the wildlife and birds. We saw deer in the meadows and dippers (water ouzels) in the Reichenbach. These stubby brown and white birds thrive on the small creatures that live in roaring mountain streams. To do this they walk underwater, clinging on to the bottom with their claws. They often nest behind waterfalls through which they fly when coming and going.

2. Friday, 25 June

After a hearty breakfast we continued up the Grosse Scheidegg (1961m), directly beneath the face of the Wetterhorn (3701m) that was dusted with fresh snow to below its glaciers. The Eiger (3970m), Moench (4099m), and Jungfrau (4158m) with their glacial appendages made a great panorama As we reached the summit, a great backdrop for a photo with rider descending down the first curve. We cruised down to Grindelwald (1034m) on the restricted access road on which the bus travels as though there were no bicycles, even though the bus is exactly as wide as the road (beware!).

It's a swift descent to Zweiluetschinen where the two rivers join and a gradual descent down the valley to Interlaken (563m). From there we had favorable winds all the way around the lake to Brienz (566m) arriving shortly before 11:00 to buy lunch at the baker, butcher, and dairy store. We ate on the steamer dock, watching swans cruise gracefully while others were bottom feeding with their great long necks deep in the water.

The dock is next to the SBB (this is a meter gauge railway that uses cog drive on steep sections) train station and and across the road the BRB (800 mm gauge) where cogwheel trains were getting up steam for the noon run up the Brienzer Rothorn (2350m). the four transport systems are about as close as you can pack them between a lake and a hard place, the granite wall. As last year, we missed seeing the new 1992 vintage steam locomotive because it was at the summit. In all, the BRB has ordered three new steamers from SLM, the builders of the original locomotives of 70 years ago that still look like new.

After lunch we rode past Meiringen and over the Lammi that circumvents the Aar River gorge (slot in the rock) to Inertkirchen, from which the road climbs south into the granite walls of the upper Aar river and the Grimsel Pass (2165m). Just remember that in a crossword puzzle the Swiss river is usually the Aar. The river has its source in two branches that encircle the Finsteraarhorn (4275m), the highest peak of the Berner Oberland. Snow near the road was thinner than other years, because most of it melted in an early spring heat wave.

It was cool and clear at the summit, with a crisp view down onto Gletsch (1761m) in the Rhone valley, nearly 400m straight down. We descended to the junction with the Furka Pass where, now that the hotel has been reopened, the Kiosk with news stand and snack bar was gone, but to make up for that the Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke (DFB) train station was open with a raft of books and post cards about the restoration of steam cogwheel operations on this historic line. Proceeds from their snack bar and book store go to the operation.

We headed up the Furka and stopped to take pictures at the hairpin turn in front of the Rhone Glacier. Meanwhile, on the Grimsel, the afternoon chilled fog was pouring over the rim and down the wall onto Gletsch, right there where we had just been under clear skies. A rallye of antique Alfa Romeos, that had passed us earlier, were parked at the glacier overlook at Hotel Belvedere. From the summit of the Furka (2431m) the Grimsel was distinctly lower, something that was less apparent when looking from the Grimsel to the Furka.

The descent to Realp (1538m) begins gradually over a broad summit that gives a panorama of the upper Reuss valley, all the way to the Oberalp Pass at the other end. We dropped in on the DFB roundhouse in Realp, where locomotive DFB#1 (one of the original locomotives of this line recovered from Vietnam) along with DFB#7 and was cooling down after a day on the hill. DFB#2 will soon join the team to go into revenue service this summer.

The road is smooth concrete and nearly flat from Realp to Hospental (1452m) and the Hotel Sternen, an old and comfortable inn. The ladies that run the place were glad to see us. As usual we parked our bikes in the laundry room and changed into civilian clothes for a tall Eichhof (58cl) beer and dinner at the place down the street with everything you might want after a day on the bike. A large Coup Danemark (chocolate sundae) helped top things off.

3. Saturday, 26 June

We climbed the cobbled main street of Hospental to the main road and the St Gotthard highway. The morning was cool and clear as we rode to the summit on a practically empty road. At the Gotthard summit (2108m) we stayed on the new road from which the many hairpin turns of the old granite paved road were visible below in the Val Tremola. After the first long tunnel we came out high above the narrow Val Bedretto, with a view to Airolo (1141m), the south portal of the rail and highway tunnels, and beyond to Rodi-Fiesso. From Airolo we rolled down the valley to Biasca where we got a lunch at the big CO-OP market before continuing to Bellinzona and the east shore of Lago Maggiore (193m) in Italy.

Just before the lake, most traffic turns off toward the west shore and the big-name resorts like Locarno and Ascona. The east shore is much quieter and has many pleasant accesses to the water with small beaches and marinas. We rode south to Maccagno where we took a swim in the lake and got a good drink from this huge drinking water source of the region. We rode down the lake to Luino and Laveno, from where we took a ferry across to Verbania on the west shore, at the mouth of the Valle d'Ossola, the valley from the Simplon Pass and Domodossola.

A short way up the valley we crossed the Toce river and headed south to Omegna and Lago d'Orta (290m), another beautiful lake with a good swim. In Omegna, a former steel town where hardly a trace of the huge factories remain, we bought an anguria (watermelon) as a pleasant refill for our water supplies. In Europe, watermelons are nearly all the dark green variety and are spherical rather than oblong but they are the same inside.

We rode down the east shore of the Lago d'Orta with its picturesque castle on an island, and west over the hills to Borgosesia on the Sesia river. From Pogno the road climbs gradually but doesn't seem to climb enough as it goes deeper into a canyon in a chestnut forest. Around a curve at, an unexpected summit we entered a 300m long tunnel and descended to Borgosesia. In town my favorite dinner spot was closed because it was Saturday, so we did a market dinner with all the trimmings and fed leftovers to huge trout under the high Sesia bridge.

4. Sunday, 27 June

In the morning we dropped by and complained to the manager of the restaurant that his day off didn't fit our schedule. He was glad to see us and wished us a good trip. We rode through the foothills to Biella and Ivrea where we dropped in on Brian Tomlin of rec.bicycles fame. I had phoned him the night before and we managed to meet in Ivrea from where we rode together to his home in nearby Perosa Canavese. He served us a gourmet lunch washed down with a good wine and chaser of Grappa.

After lunch Brian guided us on a direct but little traveled route to Torino. Because we intended to reach Robilante, still more than 100km away that day, we said goodbye after taking a lap around the center of town and rolled south with a cool light breeze. It's was a long day but without further climbing. It was a good recovery day especially with the cool weather. We stopped just before Cuneo to sample the plump tart plums on the many Japanese plum trees that line the road.

In Cuneo (534m) the mountains were barely visible in the afternoon haze as we crossed the high double decked viaduct that carries the highway and railway into town over the Stura di Demonte river. We turned right after the bridge to the piazza at the train station and cooled off at the large fountain there before rolling on up the gradual grade to Borgo San Dalmazzo where our road turned south.

We turned south at the lower end of town past the train station, where we met a long traffic jam, in the opposite direction, of people returning from a day at the beach or the mountains. Both the railway and highway connect to Italy and France over the Tenda Pass. Our stage stop was at Robilante (686m), a small town where I discovered a chain saw store that goes on and on in catacomb like rooms filled with every chain saw ever made.

The hotel, Albergo Ristorante Minerva, where we usually stop, closed their rear dining room and switched their day off to Monday with no dining room. Once more we were lucky, this being Sunday (the former day off). We parked our bikes in our room (because the next morning was their day off and no nothing), showered, and made like civilians in our un-bike clothing. The choice was red wine or beer. The beer in Italy comes in 600ml bottles and usually has a German name like Forst or Splugenbrau. Pasta or minestrone followed by an entree with vegetables, all with great Italian spices.

5. Monday, 28 June

We left early and started our gradual climb past several huge cement plants, a closed steel mill, and finally to Limone (990m), the last town this side of the border. Here, where the road gets steeper, where we picked up some breakfast at the bakery. Farther up, at the summit tunnel (1871m) we got something to eat and soda pop at the bar and headed up the road across the street to the Tenda Pass (1908m). The road is unmarked but with bicycles not allowed through the tunnel, it is obviously the way.

After the large ski hotels (closed and dead looking) the old Tenda road, now smoothly paved, rises through immaculately graded grassy ski slopes, devoid of trees up to the rocky crags near the top where the pavement ends abruptly giving way to rocks. We rolled easily up to the border in the clear cool weather but once on the rocks the going went slower to the top even though this last part is less steep.

The descent opened a great view of about 100 hairpin turns, some of which are tight even for a jeep, and about as wide. On the ridge above, huge stone fortresses of wars past, loomed as silent sentinels. We crossed the highway where it emerges from the tunnel and took the old road down to the bottom of the main hill into the gorge of the Roya river before returning to the new road.

In Tende (F) we changed money and shopped around for a plentiful lunch of fresh bread, cheese, sausages, fruit and yogurt. After lunch we rode down past Soarge to just above Breil, where we turned west over the Col de Brauis (1879m). On the other side of the pass we stopped in picturesque Sospel (349m) where the road splits in several directions that lead one way or another to the Turini Pass (1607m).

The man in the bar and ice cream shop remembered us from past years and filled our dishes richly as he filled us in on the lack of news in this peaceful town. We headed north on the main road to the Turini, the pass that, with snow, makes the Monte Carlo auto rallye the challenge that it is. From the wooded summit we rolled down the seemingly endless descent that exposes more depth each time it looks like the bottom, finally reaching the Vesubie river. We rode up the valley to Roquebilliere (622m) for the night.

6. Tuesday, 29 June

After breakfast we rolled up the Vesubie valley to St Martin (930m) where we grabbed a bite and headed up the Col St Martin (1500m). As the others, this road has spectacular vistas as it clings to rock walls and dives in and out of bare rock tunnels in which martins nest in the ceiling and make diving attacks on bicyclists. We descended with clear cool weather, with a view to the west with a panorama of mountains with many roads on the far side of the Tinee' river. The final descent to the river hangs on ledges as it passes through tunnels vertically above the main road in the Tinee'. From here it was a gradual climb to St Etienne de Tinee (1144m) at the foot of the Restefond/Bonnet (2770m). We downed some ice cream and soda and headed into the canyon.

As we rose above tree line, we came upon a climbing and hiking hut among some old buildings called Ref de Bouseiyas (1200m). This looked like good accommodations and food for a stage stop on a future trip. It's a long climb but only about a kilometer is steep on the way to the top. Although 16km away, the pass is visible if you know where to look, but even then it seems unreal. We cruised over the top in amazingly good form and rolled down the other side that also seems to go forever, neither side being steep.

The road had substantial fresh paving (and gravel) with freshly graded sections yet to be paved for the coming TdF. Although it was fast going, a rock gave my rear tire a snake bite, letting precious California air escape. I don't like to pump tires on these trips and this was the only time I had to exercise my pump. We rolled down to Jausiers (1220m) and turned up the Ubaye river about 11km's to Condamine. Here the rock walls of the gorge are full of tunnels from top to bottom, connecting huge fortifications that keep their silent vigil for enemies long gone. We stopped at the campground down by the river just below the fortress and got a good night's sleep in the dormitory after a great dinner.

7. Wednesday, 30 June

The Col de Larche (Colle della Maddalena) (1991m) from Borgo San Dalmazzo joins the Route des Grandes Alpes here just before the Col de Vars (2111m) where we expected to get stuck in sheep herds being driven to high summer pastures. This time we caught up with the sheep after riding through kilometers of sheep dung that caked our tires. A well trained sheep dog led us through, as we rode up the mountain to where the road gets a little steeper at 10% on the way to the top. Here we got a perspective of our insignificance with majestic peaks rising all around us.

After the descent we rode through the center of Guillestre, a wonderfully inviting town, before heading up the Vars river for lunch at Arvieux at the base of the Izoard Pass. The grocery store in Arvieux has a bench, a water fountain, and a public restroom, under the city hall across the street. This store now closes at 13:00 rather than noon so we didn't need to hurry as much as formerly. In the past this stop required an all out effort to get there before closing time. After lunch the work began.

As it leaves Arvieux, the Izoard is fairly steep up to the first hairpin turn above Brunnisard. After the false summit and short descent, we stopped at the Coppi monument, mounted on a jagged roadside rock outcropping before the final ascent. Once again I got inspired to hustle up this section because a young amateur racer with whom I had talked earlier was chasing after he had made a longer stop than we. I had just enough head start to hold him off to the top.

The descent to Briancon (1321m) is unspectacular as it descends through a thin forest without much view. We stopped at a large indoor mall with a food store and picked up enough fuel to get us to the top of the Lauteret (2058m) and to the Hotel des Glaciers, where Paul Bonnabel presides. This is a long gradual climb that, on the descent, is just flat enough to not feel like down hill (if you hurry). The summit of the Galibier came into view as a distant notch as we rounded a bend a few kilometers up the valley. Because I had stopped at his hotel often since 1960, Mr Bonnabel asked us to be his guests this time, for which he served us a great dinner. We ate formidably, got a good night's sleep and a started the next day with good breakfast.

8. Thursday, 1 July

The Galibier (2645m) is a great way to start a day because it warms you up right away. It's not too steep and gradually develops a great panorama on the way to the top. At the old one-lane summit tunnel (2555m), now closed, the road diverges onto the ancient route with up to 13% grade near the top. The summit is a hairpin turn from which both sides are visible in breathtaking splendor. The view includes Briancon to the south and to many snow capped peaks to the north, including the mountains near the Col del Iseran, our next adventure. A few weeks later while watching the TdF on TV I saw the same road that had been clean, covered, almost solidly, with graffiti.

The north descent has a couple of fast places in it just before Valloire (1430m) from where the road climbs again to the Col de la Telegraph (1570m) for the main descent to St Michel sur Arc (890m) in the Maurienne valley, where we stopped for lunch. From here it's a gradual climb past Modane where most traffic goes through the highway and railroad Frejus tunnels to Torino. Farther up at Lanslebourg, the Col du Mont Cenis (2083m) heads south, and after that there was little traffic as we climbed the Col du Madeleine (1746m), a small but steep bump from Lanslebourg to the high valley of the Arc toward Bonneval (1783m) at the foot of the Iseran. As we approached Bonneval, a grey village of stone buildings with stone roofs, the side valleys exposed views of glaciers and snow covered peaks. A tourist store that is "always" open had just what we needed to go to the top of the big one, the Col de l'Iseran (2770m).

From Bonneval the first climb rises into an upper valley from which the road can be seen high above on the north wall. The second climb breaks into a higher valley through some tunnels to the base of the last steep climb that goes to the top. Considering the elevation of Bonneval, it seems unduly far to the summit. I have always had the urge to leave soon, once at the top, because the summit is surrounded by high mountains from which the weather can change rapidly. It was late, and before we could start down, the rain came. The view of Val d'Isere, the valley that is chock full of ski hotels and commercial amenities, was blotted out by the rain as the temperature dropped. The descent from Val d'Isere was wet but fast and gradually got drier farther down the valley where we found a campground with a small hotel just before Seez (920m).

9. Friday, 2 July (3100m)

During the night the clouds of the evening moved on, leaving us a clear cool morning to start up the Col du Petite St. Bernard (2188m). Although it was fair weather, clouds obscured the usual view of Mont Blanc (4810m) at the summit. On the way down toward Aosta, the weather looked good enough for trails, so we turned toward Courmayeur (1226m), the south portal of the Mont Blanc tunnel to Chamonix.

We got a good lunch at a grocery store before heading up the Val Ferret east of town. The road starts climbing steeply and only levels off after a few kilometers at La Vachey (1642m) up the valley of the cascading La Doire river. The road got smaller, and at Pre de Bar it became a rocky jeep trail that ends at a Rifugio and dairy shed.

Here it becomes obvious that wheels won't do much good except to support the bike as you push it up a steep narrow hiking path. After a bit, the trail became so steep that we carried our bikes, because we could neither make the bike roll nor was there room to wheel it on the steep traverses as we climbed high above a glacier. The summit of the Col Ferret (2564m) is almost exactly 500 meters higher than the end of road, giving the strong hiker a good challenge. With skill, the last 100 meters can be ridden. Although there are walking sections, especially when crossing snow, the descent to the west is mostly ridable for those who like challenging trails.

Finally the hiking trail falls steeply for abut 100 meters to a milking shed where a jeep road makes the rest of the ride to pavement simple. The south side of Mont Blanc is far steeper than the north at Chamonix, offering spectacular views with glaciers hanging overhead to bring the mountain's character closer to the viewer. It is also a more rugged terrain that is unspoiled by development because it has no ski slopes.

From Ferret (1705m) the paved road allows a swift descent to the Great St Bernard highway at Oisieres (901m), on its way to Martigny (467m) at the corner of the Rhone valley. Marc had only a couple of vacation days left so he turned up the small road to Salvan that connects to the road to Chamonix where he wanted to visit a friend. I continued alone up the Rhone valley with the usual tailwind to Susten/Leuk (630m).

10. Saturday, 3 July [224km, 3800m]

It's not far from Susten to Brig (684m) but without the afternoon tailwind it is slightly up hill. As I was walking my bike across a crosswalk in deference to the many pedestrians crossing the plaza to the train station, a motorist tried to bluff his way through by charging the crosswalk, braking at the last instant while honking his horn. His bumper stopped at my leg and as a natural response I pounded on his hood with my fist. His brand new car had a soft hood that now had a clearly visible dent. When he got out and attacked me, other pedestrians grabbed him and told him to buzz off. I can imagine him explaining to the body shop how he got the dent.

I rode on up the Rhone valley past Fiesch and Oberwald to catch a lunch at one of my favorites, Hotel Rhonequelle, where the road makes a big hairpin turn around the hotel and the weekend M/C riders blast by in good racing form for the guests eating lunch at their box seats on the terrace. From skill of some of these riders you could believe it was really a race. Good show!

Three km's up the road in Gletsch (1759m), I caught a refreshment at the DFB train station before riding over the Furka (2431m) to Realp (1538m) where the DFB#1 was pushing a work train up the grade. I got some good action shots before riding on to Andermatt (1447m) and over the Oberalp pass (2044m). From here it is a long roll down the Rhein valley to Ilanz where I took the road on the south side to Bonaduz over the hill at Vesam (908m) to finish the day in Raezuens (655m) the mineral water town.

11. Sunday, 4 July

It was another great day with clear cool weather, as I rode up to Thusis and onward to Tiefencastel (851m). From here the road rolls along the Albula river to Filisur where the famous curved high stone-arch railway bridge crosses the Landwasser before diving into a tunnel in a vertical wall. The road gets as steep as 13% for awhile before it rises above Preda (1789m), the north portal of the RhB Albula Tunnel. From the Albula pass (2315m) it's a short descent to the Inn valley, as the road becomes steeper just before La Punt Chamues-ch (1687m). I turned up the valley to Samedan (1721m) and over to Pontresina at the foot of the Bernina Pass. I waited at the Montebello RR crossing with the view of Piz Bernina and Morteratsch glacier long enough to get a good photo with train.

The headwind got stiffer as I got farther up the hill, but it was still early and I didn't lose much time to the Bernina summit (2328m). On the descent the wind wasn't strong enough to make much difference as I rolled into Poschiavo and on to Brusio where I stopped at Hotel Bettoni for a big dish of ice cream to make up for the valley heat that came up from Italy, just around the corner. I crossed the border at Campodolcino, took a right at Madonna di Tirano (440m) and a left to Stazzona, up the shortcut to the Aprica Pass (1176m).

The Aprica cuts around the mountains to Edolo (675m) and on to Ponte di Legno, at the foot of the Tonale and Gavia passes. Just before Ponte di Legno, in Temu (1144m), Silvano Macculotti runs the best little hotel in the Alps. What makes such places great is the food. Every meal is a creation that comes from the heart and without a menu. Silvano has always made my stops worthwhile.

12. Monday, 5 July [14km, 4100m]

I rode up through Ponte di Legno staying on the left side of the Frigidolfo that cascades through the narrow town so close that you can reach out and touch the icy standing waves. Up the valley, the road was being widened where it climbs through a larch forest on the east side of the canyon to the high valley at Apollonia. There, near the small hotel, is a Gazebo in which spigots of mineral water come straight out of the ground to pour forth two flavors. I have always claimed that they give strength that helps flatten the Gavia to a manageable hill.

A few km's up hill, the broad paved road reduces to a single dirt lane where a sign proclaims 16% just as it did in the Palo Alto Bicycles poster of 1975 for which Bill Robertson was the subject. The one lane road goes to within five km's of the top where it is again paved for the rest of the pass. Instead of going through the new tunnel, I chose to ride around the cliff so I could take the obligatory picture on the road that today is more precarious than ever, abandoned and without guard rail.

From the cliff it is three km's to the Gavia summit (2618m) and the Rifugio Bonetta where the poster of the cliff, with youthful rider, hangs under glass. I wore the same GAN jersey as in the poster and as usual the Proprietor bought me a drink and wished me well. I drank and thanked and got rolling. The road is fast and smooth to Santa Caterina (1734m) where the road again becomes a full width on the way to Bormio (1225m).

I bought myself a good lunch that I ate in Bormio's central park before heading up the Stelvio (2759m) that, although a little cloudy was not wet. I took some pictures at the top, bought some post cards and rolled down the 48 hairpin turns to Prato (911m) under the shadow of the Ortler (3905m) with its magnificent looking white dome of ice.

I rode on past Spondigna and Merano (302m) to Bolzano (262m) where I turned up the Costalunga Pass with its canyon of vertical rock walls that the road manages by tunneling and 16% grades. I rode up to Welschenofen to a comfortable hotel with friendly people and got a good night's sleep.

13. Tuesday, 6 July [194km, 4100m]

With almost no traffic I rode past the emerald Lago di Carezza in whose glassy surface the myriad spires of the Latemar (2846m) were mirrored. Then after passing the huge magnificent hotels with massive 1920's architecture near the summit of the Costalunga (1753m), I descended to Pozza di Fassa (1220m) and on to Canazei and turned up the Pso Sella (2257m), the Gardena (2121m), and the Campolongo (1875m) and onward to the Giau (2236m). The view from the Giau was magnificent with the great Dolomites, the majestic Le Tofane, Monte Cristallo, Monte Cadini and the Marmorola above Cortina, clear and bright in the afternoon sun while to the southwest, the glacier glistened on the Marmolada.

I rode down the Giau to the lower part of the Falzarego Pass to Cortina (1210m) and up the Pso Tre Croci (1890m) and the Misurina (1756m) where the Tre Cime di Laveredo cast their reflection on the summit lake. From here it was a swift run with a tailwind to Dobiacco (1240m) for the days stop. The central Dolomites are so breathtaking that one can become jaded. I always recall the grand panoramas that are almost too perfect in composition and range. Today was one of those perfect days when they showed themselves in their finest. With these distractions it was an easy day.

14. Wednesday, 7 July [186km, 3000m]

The morning was unusual because it looked like rain with a uniform haze and short lenticular clouds bending over each peak to the north. Meanwhile in the valley a steady breeze was blowing from the east. I headed down the Drau river toward Lienz into the wind that seemed more constant than strong, once I got going. The sun was muted by the high humidity as I rode past Lienz (675m) and up the Iselsberg Pass (1204m) into the Moell valley on the way to the Gross Glockner.

As I descended from Iselsberg to Winklern (940m) the sky ahead toward the Glockner was solid clouds. I stopped for a mid morning feed before the run up the Moelltal for lunch in Heiligenblut (1301m) at the foot of the Glockner toll road. I asked a motorcyclist at a gas station how the weather was, only to hear that it was snowing up there. In the narrows below Heiligenblut, dippers were doing their routine curtsies at the edge of the roaring Moell.

I didn't let the reports of harsh conditions dissuade me because I had a feeling from what I had seen that I would probably miss the weather. Having good luck missing bad weather should compensate for the daily rains I rode in last summer. As I sat on a bench across from the all day, every day, market in Heiligenblut, where the road tilts up to the ruling 12% grade, I ate mortadella and cheese on fresh rolls with a quart of milk. All the while swifts darted around the church steeple that gives the little town, that clings to the slope about 100 meters above a valley floor, its picture postcard appearance. The valley is so steep that part of town was still in the shade at noon. The glaciers of the Gross Glockner and its neighbors, that were starting to show, complete a classic alpine backdrop.

I headed up the wide and smooth road breathing deeply of the crisp cool air. This is a toll road where bicyclists go for free. After the junction to Josephshoehe and into the upper hairpin turns, each one numbered and labeled with distance and elevation, I began to see my breath in the bright sunshine. It was what I call good climbing air, because the still cool air gives good cooling. Beyond that, the scenery is grand, and seeing the road below gives an appreciation of the elevation gained.

I took a few pictures on the way as well as one at the summit Hochtor (2505m) tunnel that goes from Land Kaernten into Land Salzburg. A short descent drops to Mittletoerl (2328m), a curved tunnel that has a sign showing how double decker busses must drive in the middle of the road for clearance. To unsuspecting travelers entering the tunnel, it is not obvious that all the honking is a bus using the whole tunnel. Cars back up and there is a big jam.

After a little more descent, a 12% climb rises to Fuschertoerl (2428m) with its grand panorama of the Glockner across the deep canyon as a reward for a great climb. The Glockner protruded above stratified clouds that hung about 300 meters above the overlook almost vertically above the Fuschertal far below. Even though it was below freezing, I decided not to pull out my jacket because I was still hot, and with the road as steep as it is, I would quickly be in warm air. It was a great descent with little traffic to Bruck (757m) on the Salzach.

I cruised up river to Zell am See dropping in on my old friend Ferdinand. A. Porsche, whom I usually visit at the Porsche Design studio when I come this way. We talked about old times and what some of our cronies are doing now. We had worked together in the 1960's on the 904 GT and 804 F1 car. After awhile I realized it was getting late and I still had about 40km's to go to the hotel I had in mind.

Amazingly the wind had turned and didn't help as I rode up the Pinzgau along the little 760mm gauge railway that goes from Zell to the end of the valley in Krimml. I got to Wald (867m) at the foot of the Gerlos Pass and headed up the 17% grade to Hotel Grubl, a place that always looked good to me as I rode by on earlier rides. I got there at 8:00 to find the super friendly Kaiser family that runs the place almost anticipating my arrival. My expectations were not disappointed.

15. Thursday, 8 July [260km, 2700m]

After a rich breakfast with boiled egg, sausage, cheese, hot chocolate, apricot and cherry preserves and a warm croissants, I hustled up the 17% section and on to the flat upper reaches of the road. Near the top I crossed the Salzach (Salzburg's river), that is only a small creek here, for the last time and crossed the summit of the Gerlos pass (1486m). At the old summit the road merges with the new toll road that replaced the old steep, one lane dirt road when the huge dam was built on the Gerlos river to flood the valley.

The road gradually descends past Gerlos and on down to Zell am Ziller (757m) where the Zillertal Bahn runs steam trains on the 760mm gauge track from the Inn river to Mayerhofen. The wind blew lightly up the valley and gave me hopes of good tailwinds when I turned the corner up the Inn. When I got to Strass (560m) on the river I sat up, hands on my hips, and rolled up the valley with a brisk breeze in my back. I stopped in Volders for a quick lunch and rode on into the Center of Innsbruck to check out the tourist scene. The golden roof was gold and the crowds were dense.

Having seen all that, I cruised on up the south side of the valley through small towns where the freeway had drained off most traffic. I had an undisturbed ride up the valley to the Oetztal that comes in from the Timmelsjoch (Pso Rombo 2483m). Here there was a detour and plenty of traffic from the freeway until Imst from where traffic went back to nothing as I rode on to Landeck (816m). Here I got a couple of large fruit yogurts as a booster to get me up to the Italian border.

As I left town, a road crew was tightening bolts on a new guard rail for which they had closed one of the two lanes with a traffic light giving equal time in each direction although there was hardly any traffic in my direction. This during the evening rush caused more than a three km standing traffic jam. I rode on up the valley staying on the main road in spite of the no bicycles sign. I once took the frontage road and found that it was so circuitous that it doubled the time.

At the end of the valley, where the road becomes narrow and has no shoulders, bicycles are again permitted. I took the east ramp up the canyon that climbs up the granite wall. Here, as I was nicely climbing, a black BMW roars by and honks. It turns around and pulls up with the "Hi Jobst" that I have become to expect somewhere on the trip. This was as odd as any encounter. It was Vlado Kuserave, a former racer from the SF Bay Area who had just driven over the Umbrail and Stelvio on a vacation/business trip with his wife. I hadn't seen him since he came to California for a dinosaur ride a few years ago from NJ where he runs a restaurant. We jawed for a while and then I rushed on because I wanted to get over the Reschen Pass and up the Ofen Pass yet.

As I crossed the top of the Reschen Pass (1508m) the Ortler and Gran Zebru came into view on the horizon. It was clear and cool in the late afternoon as I fought stiff headwinds on the level road along the summit lake. A hay wagon came rolling past at about 40km/h and I got on his draft that I rode until I got past the dam. I rolled down the broad sweeping S-bends to Malles (1062m) where the road cuts off to the Swiss border and the Ofen Pass.

The road drops into the Val Monestero (697m) and starts climbing to Santa Maria (1375m) where the Umbrail pass turns of to the south. Here the road gets steep and climbs until the flat meadows around Fuldera (1638m), my goal for the day. Here in the hotel that is off the main road, bikies are welcome, the owner being an avid cyclist himself. This is truly first class in all departments at moderate rates.

16. Friday, 9 July [212km, 3700m]

Up over the Passo dal Fuorn (2149m) and down to Zernez, I turned east down to Susch (1426m) at the foot of the Fluela Pass (2383m). This time I couldn't see the Ortler to the south through the clouds although the sun was out. There was still some ice on the lake at the top and a patch of snow. I rolled down to Davos (1560m), over the Wolfgang Pass (1625m) and down to Klosters and Landquart (530m). I headed north along the Rhine to Bad Ragaz and Sargans (483m), where I turned west to the Walensee to take the "shortcut" over the Karenzerberg (743m) to Mollis (445m) and Netstal.

The Churfirsten rise to 2300m straight up from the Walensee making an inspiring scene. Here, in canton Glarus, it's a quick 24km run up the Linth river to Linthal (662m) from where the road starts literally climbing walls. Glarus is a canton of little flatland and nearly vertical walls whose steepness makes up for their modest heights. In spite of that, there are abundant glaciers. The first climb starts out in tight rough hewn and dripping one way tunnels followed by several long traverses through a hardwood forest. The road breaks out of the woods into the high Urnerboden valley (1372m) in canton Uri.

Although on the Glarner side of the pass, this valley belongs to canton Uri on the other side. It seems the border setting party from Glarus had a horrendous hangover the day they were to establish the border between Uri and Glarus. The Urners reached the summit, found no one and proceeded down to the end of the high valley, looked down the cliffs and said this is enough and drove the stakes before the Glarus team arrived.

From Urnerboden, the final climb rises to the Klausen Pass (1948m) from where it descends into the box canyon of the Schaechental with its vertical walls. A steep hiking trail that finds its way along rock strata and ledges is discernable on the wall. The road is carved in the sheer rock and hangs on ledges connected by tunnels. From the road, only rooftops of the farm sheds 500 meters below are visible and cows appear as the proverbial ants in the green. There is no guard rail here, only a three inch pipe handrail one meter off the ground. I don't take these corners fast. The scenery is exciting enough. I finished the day at Posthotel Urigen.

17. Saturday, 10 July [84km, 568m]

Last night Steffan Truschner, who operates the hotel asked what I was doing here in fair weather, having welcomed me in driving rain the past couple of years. I ate on the terrace and relaxed in the warm evening with other guests who also appreciated the mild weather. During the night, after midnight, a fierce wind ripped branches from the trees outside my window and by 1:00 it was raining.

After breakfast, with my rain jacket on, I pushed off down the hill and, because snow was falling above 1800 meters, took the low road around the Vierwaldstettersee to Brunnen and Vitznau instead of going over the Susten Pass. As I rolled through Vitznau, a steam cogwheel train was preparing to climb the Rigi. At Kuessnacht I cut over toward Cham and Knonau to Affoltern to finish the trip at noon for a good lunch. The tour was 2854km and 48100 meters cumulative climbing. From then till I left for home it rained every day in the central alps.

Odds and Ends

The next nine days, I traveled in Germany on a rail pass and visited towns in Germany, mostly in the former East Germany. On the way I dropped in at Meiningen where the Furka steam locomotives, that had been retrieved from DaLat in Vietnam, were rebuilt. DFB#2 was getting final touches before going to the paint shop and back home for revenue service on the Furka Pass.

I took all my pictures on slides because only the big screen (using the term loosely) can do the landscape justice. The real thing is bigger than life and can't be captured on film that is only a glimpse. I am often asked about my bike. It is a 26 inch road frame with conventional racing angles, six speed cluster and two chainrings with 47-50 and 13-15-17-19-21-24. I carry a Carradice Nelson saddlebag with a homemade quick release bracket. The wheels are Mavic MA-2, 36 DT 1.8-1.6 swaged spokes on Campagnolo Record hubs with Avocet Road 20 tires. I pump them up before leaving home and, if I'm lucky don't pump them again until a month after I get home. I prefer not to camp out because it requires baggage that I am not willing to carry and sleeping in the wet, which I am even less willing to do.

Ride bike,... and ride the alps.